Patients rejoice at Victorian IVF restart

Benita Kolovos and Callum GoddeAAP
Acting Victorian Health Minister James Merlino says prospective parents will be able to resume IVF.
Camera IconActing Victorian Health Minister James Merlino says prospective parents will be able to resume IVF. Credit: AAP

Prospective parents are rejoicing at the Victorian government's decision to reverse a ban on most IVF treatments during the escalating Omicron coronavirus wave.

Acting Health Minister James Merlino announced some services will restart from Thursday, while hospitals are scaling up their operations to enable procedures to resume from 11.59pm on Tuesday.

IVF clinics were contacted by authorities earlier this month to cancel appointments as part of a pause on elective surgeries in response to the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalisations.

The move attracted criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, state Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, IVF clinics, patients and the community, with an online petition garnering almost 140,000 signatures.

Mr Merlino said he received advice from the chief health officer that restrictions on IVF procedures could be removed, given the workforce's specialist nature, facilities and equipment were not currently imperative in the pandemic response.

The health department will work with the Royal Women's Hospital to prioritise urgent patients, ensuring the changes do not affect its resources for COVID-19 patients.

Mr Merlino and Premier Daniel Andrews apologised for the distress caused by the pause.

"There's a process going on at the moment to review the advice and a number of other day surgery and day procedures. So, hopefully, I can make some announcements next week to add to that list," Mr Andrews told reporters.

Tiana Clayworth, 28, has gone through seven IVF cycles since 2020 after testing confirmed it was the only way she and her partner could conceive.

The Melburnian was preparing for another round when the clinic informed her of the pause.

"I'd started all that build-up. It was a blow to stop," she told AAP.

Her treatment will now be able to proceed in the next few weeks as planned but she said the interruption caused her emotional trauma, on top of the typical trials associated with each course.

Monash IVF medical director Luk Rombauts said one in seven couples experience fertility issues and staff could only provide services to about one per cent of patients during the pause.

Carve-outs for patients were limited to those who had already taken their IVF drugs before January 6 and those about to have chemotherapy, which can destroy egg reserves.

Prof Rombauts, who is also president of Australia and New Zealand's Fertility Society, commended the Victorian government for "listening" to pleas to overturn the pause, the first of its kind in the state since the first wave of the pandemic.

"I've already spoken to quite a lot of patients and they're all extremely grateful for the government setting something right," he said.

Prof Rombauts says women who already have their eggs "on ice" can start their course straight away, meaning the two-week stoppage will not create a patient backlog.

Melbourne IVF medical director Fleur Cattrall also welcomed the reversal, noting a continued ban could have cost some Victorians their chance to have a baby.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the ban should never have happened in the first place.

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